LIFESTYLE

Workers strike at major Southern California hotels over pay and benefits

Jul 3, 2023, 11:00 AM | Updated: 4:24 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Workers picketed major Southern California hotels Monday after walking off the job during the July Fourth long weekend to demand better pay and benefits.

The strike by bellhops, front desk agents, room attendants, cooks, servers and dishwashers began early Sunday in Los Angeles and Orange counties just as summer tourism ramps up. Employers accused the union of failing to negotiate.

Members of Unite Here Local 11 voted last month in favor of authorizing the walkout. In addition to higher wages, the union wants improved health care benefits, higher pension contributions and less strenuous workloads.

“We deserve to get better pay because we do work hard. We clean fourteen rooms a day. Sometimes we do a little more,” said Eleida Manzo, housekeeper at JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles. The single mother of three said she makes $25 an hour.

Contracts expired at midnight Friday at more than 60 hotels, including properties owned by major chains such as Marriott and Hilton. The strike affects about half of the 32,000 hospitality workers the union represents across Southern California and Arizona.

Osiris Gaona, a phone operator at InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown, was joined on the picket line by her husband, 15-year-old son and 7-year-old granddaughter. They will march again Tuesday, the Fourth of July, she said.

“We are hoping to send a message to the owners of all the hotels,” Gaona said. “We are asking for a pay raise because it costs so much to live here in California, especially in LA.”

The walkout comes amid holiday celebrations and a major anime convention in Los Angeles. The union, on its website, urged guests to “not eat, sleep or meet” at the striking hotels, where temporary employees were hired to cover for the striking workers. But it wasn’t immediately clear whether the strike resulted in guests checking out early or lacking services.

It’s the latest action by a restive labor movement in California.

Hollywood writers have been on strike since early May. In March, the giant Actors also may strike.

Brenden Gallagher is a striking writer who on Monday joined the hotel picket line.

“We’re all workers. Workers are in the same struggle. Very often it’s the same billionaires that have investment interests in hotels and in media. If you work for a boss, you are working class. You are a worker,” he said.

The soaring cost of living in greater Los Angeles is a significant problem for hotel workers, according to the union.

Last week, a deal was reached with its biggest employer, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown Los Angeles, which has more than 600 union workers. Union officials described the tentative agreement, which provides higher pay and increased staffing levels, as a major win for workers.

Talks with other hotels — including the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons Regent Beverly Wilshire and Anaheim Hilton, near Disneyland — were at a stalemate. A coalition of more than 40 hotels involved in talks accused union leaders of canceling a scheduled bargaining session and refusing to come to the table. The hotels have offered wage increases of $2.50 per hour in the first 12 months and $6.25 over four years, the group said.

“From the outset, the Union has shown no desire to engage in productive, good faith negotiations with this group,” the hotel coalition said in a statement Sunday. “The Union has not budged from its opening demand two months ago of up to a 40% wage increase and an over 28% increase in benefit costs.”

The work stoppage had been anticipated, and the properties are “fully prepared to continue to operate these hotels and to take care of our guests as long as this disruption lasts,” said Keith Grossman, a spokesperson for the coalition.

Another housekeeper at JW Marriott, Bellen Valle, said a $5-an-hour raise would give her a substantial boost, and finally allow her to take her daughter to Disneyland.

“That’s gonna help me a lot. A lot. I can see the difference in my check,” Valle said.

___

Associated Press writers John Antczak and Christopher Weber contributed.

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Workers strike at major Southern California hotels over pay and benefits